All is not well with Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Chief Audu Ogbeh’s announcement of the proposed establishment of cattle colonies following bloodbaths in rural communities in Benue State.
This is not the only controversy over the herdsmen-sedentary farmers’ clashes that brought the minister into the centre stage of controversies, the first being the announcement to import grass seeds after the Agatu killings.
Ogbeh’s attempt to grass-up 50,000 hectares of grazing reserves with imported Brazilian seeds sent many tongues wagging across the country with ferocious resistance from some state governors, members of the public, policy makers and stakeholders.
“When I first came and talked about grass, Nigerians were very angry and they called me every kind of name in the papers. But there is no way you can keep cattle if you don’t deal with the question of fodder, and it’s not every kind of grass that cattle eat,” the minister said.
But he has no budget or special intervention fund from the central government to execute the project.
The Benue killings opened another chapter in the conflict and forced the minister who is from Benue State, to announce the establishment of cattle colonies.
Available information from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as confirmed by the Minister’s Special Assistant on Media, Dr Olukayode Oyeleye, indicated that 16 states in the country have agreed to release lands for the commencement of the colonies.
The states are Kebbi, Zamfara, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe and Borno. Others are Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger and Kwara.
But the Plateau and Kogi governments are facing resistance at home since the governors announced support and were said to have offered 5,000 and 15,000 hectares respectively for the programme.
Some prominent Plateau leaders have accused Governor Lalong of trying to sell the state to the Fulani by taking up their ancestral lands and refused to go along with it. Senator Jonah Jang, who represents Plateau Central Constituency at the Senate and Gov. Simon Lalong’s predecessor, stressed that his people would oppose cattle colonies.
The situation forced the state governor in a statement released by Dan Manjang, his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, to say he had no plans to take away land from communities for the colonies, urging Plateau citizens to “bury any such imagination.”
While in Kogi, Governor Yahaya Bello was reported to be facing opposition from the Igala and Yoruba people over any attempt to use their land for cattle colonies.
Last week, Bello was at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to officially handover 15,000 hectares of land to the minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and expressed the state’s readiness to pilot the project.
According to him, the economic benefit of such project is huge in the long run and will resolve the endemic crises between sedentary farmers and herders.
Although 16 states have indicated interest to key into the project, 20 have expressed opposition to it for various reasons.
The states include Rivers, Sokoto Taraba, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Imo, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Edo, Benue, Abia, Cross River, Lagos, Delta, Akwa-Ibom, and Bayelsa.
Many regional socio-cultural groups like the Afenifere, the Yoruba Summit Group, Ohanaeze-Ndigbo and religious organizations like PFN and others have rejected cattle colonies and called on state governments in their respective regions to distance themselves from what they termed the proposed “wild goose chase”.
Some of the socio- cultural groups saw the colonies as an attempt to seize their lands for the herdsmen.
Ogbeh spoke of the opposition: “Somebody said to me in a text, very angry at this policy, that the word colony means that we are trying to use the Fulani to colonise their states, and that it reminds them of colonialism. Well, we don’t really want to take anybody’s land to give anybody. It is not a hostile policy of government wanting to take over land in any state. We have no such intention and we have no desire to do it and upset anyone, and it is not about any ethnic group.”
Most of the states that oppose the programme hinge it on the fact that their lands are involved and the state governments might incur some costs.
Some of them argue that the programme will create agitations by people who want to go into other animal production such as piggery, goats, etc.
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State while speaking to traditional rulers, town union leaders and other organisations at the Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, over the issue, said the state, which is mainly agrarian, does not have the resources or the land for the plan.
Umahi instead in statement signed by his media aide, Emmanuel Uzor, said, “To ensure security and safety of our people and herdsmen who have lived peacefully with us,…traditional rulers are to collate data on herdsmen operating in their communities across the state for easy identification and maintenance of peace. The data should include herdsmen’s names, location and contact phone numbers of their leaders.”
Though Chief Ogbeh said much of the cost is going to be borne by the federal government and the state can chip in something,” it is the “chip in something” that some states are not willing to do.
Abia State Governor Dr Okezie Ikpeazu stressed: “We don’t have enough land for our agricultural activities and our people want more land. Giving away any part of Abia land as a colony to herdsmen, wherever they may be from, will be most unjust and unfair treatment to Abia State and her people who are largely farmers. such alien land occupation will also cause unrest and crisis that may grow beyond what we can handle when it happens, so the best thing I think we should do is to reject such plans so that those behind it will know that Abia State is not a party to it,” according to a statement by his Press Secretary, Enyinnaya Appolos.
The programme also did not receive any support from the NEC’s 10-man committee on herdsmen-farmers conflict headed by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, on legal ground.
Osinbajo at the national security summit in Abuja on February 8 spoke further on the matter:
“The federal government cannot dictate to states what to do with their lands. This is so because the Land Use Act of 1978 puts land under the control of governors on behalf of their states…Even for use of federal lands in the states according to the Supreme Court, building or development control permit must be sought from the governors of the states.
“However in several states, especially in the North, there are duly gazetted grazing reserves. A majority of these grazing reserves are degraded and are without pasture or water, especially in the dry season. Grazing routes leading to these reserves must also be secured. The grazing reserves to be effective and operate effectively, should operate as ranches or livestock production centres on a commercial basis. The ranches will have adequate water from boreholes, salt points and pasture. The locations would serve both as forage points, but also centres for providing extension services to boost animal care, feeding and veterinary facilities, and even abattoirs. Because the ranches are commercial ventures, cattle owners will pay for its use,” he said.
Even the herdsmen themselves oppose the idea of cattle colonies since the structure would mean they would pay for using the infrastructure that either private investors or government would put in such colonies.
The leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) at different fora expressed opposition to the plan to establish cattle colonies and the anti-grazing law passed in Benue.
They consider cattle colonies as an infringement on their freedom of movement as guaranteed by the constitution and vow to go to court on anything that infringes on their right.
As it stands, Ogbeh has a tough task ahead to get the other states to key into the programme. The question of how he would get the billions of naira needed to establish the colonies remain to be answered as it is not part of the 2018 budget.
The size and capacity of each colony is not defined and nothing much has been heard about the commencement of the project since announcement.